As mammals we all pee. Urine, produced by the kidneys, is an essential part of physiology: it eliminates excess water, helps electrolyte balances, rids the body of toxic metabolites and waste products and drugs, and helps maintain acid-base balance within the bloodstream. Therefore, it is essential to maintain proper kidney and urinary health.
Let’s start with drinking sufficient amounts of water. Always keep your pet’s water bowl full with fresh water. Change it daily and be certain to wash the bowls with soap and water frequently.
A healthy dog should drink between one-half to one ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. In essence, a 65-pound dog, a small Labrador, should drink between one-quarter to one-half a gallon per day. On hot days this may be more. If your dog eats a canned diet, possibly a bit less.
Cats should drink 5-10 ounces per day, but remember, many eat canned food, thus needing much less water.
Drinking too little water results in dehydration and a host of issues. Conversely, too much water can be problematic as well. If your dog has been out playing hard, of course let them drink post exercise, but not too much. Have your pup take a break for a few minutes when drinking. When an otherwise healthy dog overdrinks, the excess water may cause sodium and potassium imbalances, leading to serious illness. Many dogs and cats will have excessive drinking secondary to medical problems. Causes can include diabetes, kidney disease, bladder or kidney infections, Cushing’s disease, and certain cancers. See your veterinarian if you notice excessive drinking.
Kidney disease may cause problems with urination. First, decreased kidney function usually leads to increased urination. Why you ask? It is because of kidney physiology. Here’s the short version. Blood enters the kidneys, and the kidneys take out much of the fluid from the bloodstream, then the kidneys selectively put back into the bloodstream that which is needed, including water. When kidneys start to fail, the first item they fail to replace is water, thus the pet urinates excessively. This leads to dehydration and loss of electrolytes and other essential nutrients.
Many dogs and cats develop kidney stones or bladder stones. The reasons for this are myriad, but treatment for most is similar. A bladder stone is what it sounds like: a rock within the urinary bladder. It forms slowly, similar to a pearl: layers of stone are added over time. Risk factors include breed (Westies, Dalmatians, Schnauzers, Bichon Frises, miniature poodles, Yorkshire terriers, Shih Tzus), diet, and other factors such as drinking too little water. Many cats develop bladder stones too.
There are several different types of common stones. Some can be dissolved and cured with diet, while others must be surgically removed. For all stone types, preventing recurrence involves diet and being certain that your pet drinks plenty of water. Stones are diagnosed via x-rays or abdominal ultrasound in combination with urine analysis.
Bladder infections are a common occurrence in female dogs and cats, and less so in males of both species. Cardinal signs of bladder infections include increased drinking and urinating, urinating in inappropriate places, leaking of urine, blood in urine, and foul odor to the urine. These are diagnosed via sampling the urine and examining it under a microscope. Many infections are readily treated with either oral or injectable antibiotics. In more complicated cases the infection ascends from the urinary bladder into the kidneys. This condition is called pyelonephritis and can be life-threatening.
Many bladder infections can be caused by poor conformation, such as excessive skin folds around the vulvar region. This is complicated by dogs or cats being overweight. Excessive hair in this region may also trap debris, similar to the folds of skin, resulting in bladder infections. Good hygiene in female dogs and cats may help to lessen the occurrence of infections. This includes trimming hair as needed. In dogs with redundant skin, clean the region frequently, as instructed by your veterinarian.
The urinary system is essential to life as we know it, and it can also develop numerous problems. We will discuss more of them another day. Today’s takeaway: monitor your pet’s drinking and urination carefully, and if you notice any problems call your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Dan Teich, DVM, is at District Veterinary Hospital, 3748 10th St. NE. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.